Now the dust has settled from the shootout on the Gold Coast, the professional business hit on Neil Henry’s career to be more accurate, the race for NRL glory takes pride of place. Two weeks to go and the teams are jockeying for position for the playoffs. The Top 4 safety net is far from settled and don’t count the fast finishing Panthers out from barging that door down. While the makeup of the 8 is going down to the wire, a tightwire that is. The Sea Eagles are wobbling, the Cowboys have fallen from the saddle with a boot stuck in the stirrup, the Dragons are clinging to the cliff and the Raiders need a miracle to make a surprise September appearance.
Brisbane Broncos v Parramatta Eels
Parramatta are on a mission from Brad to grab a spot in the Top 4 and prove to their fans and themselves that they belong in this lofty position. They travel to God’s country otherwise known as Wayne’s World to take on Bennett’s Broncos who are bucking everyone in their path. To knock off the Broncos for the second time in a matter of weeks, and in their house, would be a huge achievement for Brad Arthur’s Eels and propel them towards the finals with wind in their sails. While the match up of the halves is mouth-watering with Mitchell Moses and Corey Norman taking on Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima. This clash will be won up front and the backrow battle will be a blockbuster. Josh McGuire locking horns with Nathan Brown will be brutal, Kenny Edwards will cause chaos, while Adam Blair will welcome Moses to the promised land by introducing his face to the Suncorp soil. The Eels will miss Manu Ma’u through suspension (shoulder charge). His absence felt immensely by the Eels, and fondly by the Broncos outside backs who don’t have to be hit by him. This will be Ben Hunt’s first real test of his ruck defence as the Eels like to throw short balls through the middle. We’ll know afterwards how much Andrew McCullough will be missed, if at all.
Broncos by 8
Canberra Raiders v Newcastle Knights
The Green Machine got carjacked by the Panthers and the late loss summed up their season, now all but gone. The Raiders have drunk at the Last Chance Saloon and are now doing a pub crawl along the Miracle Mile. Ricky Stuart will earn top dollar getting his men up for this one but with teams above faltering the Raiders must keep the faith they can still make the playoffs. Errors and application again were an issue but the Raiders played good footy in patches. The forwards made mega metreage driving the Panthers backwards and will look to power through the Knights. It’s Dave Taylor’s last home game before departing for the Toronto Wolfpack and he’d love to leave a lasting impression on GIO Stadium visually and physically, you’ll still see the big man’s footprints in the turf at kick off next season. The Knights came back to earth with a thud after the Storm exhibited the gap between first and last is large, Craig Bellamy’s power point presentation to emphasise this fact didn’t go down well. Next time he probably should do it in his own dressing room not the Knights. Just joking, it was a pie chart display. Newcastle are a chance if the Raiders aren’t up for this, though star playmaker Brock Lamb is out damaging their hopes. Dane Gagai will accept any half chances offered but I think the Raiders still believe therefore they’ll bury the Knights taking out their frustration from last week.
Raiders by 16
Wests Tigers v North Queensland Cowboys
Can the Wests Tigers help the Raiders and the Dragons by upsetting the visiting Cowboys? The Tigers are in good form sinking the Sea Eagles and nearly roasting the Roosters the past couple of weeks. James Tedesco is flying the coop next year to the Chooks and is ending the year and his Tigers career on a high, given space he’ll cut the Cowboys to shreds. Ivan Cleary has the bus rattling along and they’ll treat the Cowboys as a speedbump on the road to recovery in 2018. This is a quality test for the Tigers. Despite all the injuries the Cowboys have put a good team on the paddock and a big one at that. The Tigers defence has improved but is still suspect and Jason Taumalolo and Coen Hess will bend it to breaking point. The Cowboys are desperate to save their season and it’s a must win with the Broncos to come. Michael Morgan is the Cowboys season saviour and hopefully he can manage to get through the 80 minutes without requiring an HIA. Paul Green’s men have shown tremendous courage to stay in the hunt for October but really, they’ll do well to slouch into September. They look knackered as the long year of battering and bruises take their toll. I’ve gazed into my brand new crystal ball, got it cheap at Costco, and can see the eye of the Tiger.
Tigers by 6
Gold Coast Titans v Canterbury Bulldogs
This is a battler’s belter. Two coaches on the nose, Neil Henry shot down at the Titans while Des Hasler has been in the crosshairs most of the season. Both teams evading venomous snipers on social media like Keanu Reeves dodging bullets in The Matrix. The Bulldogs amazed everyone including themselves to deliver their finest football for months in disposing of the Sea Eagles. Some of the Bulldogs attack was sparkling which has Des Hasler and fans alike wondering, where has this been? The Bulldogs will see the Titans as a great chance to snatch another two points and rub salt into their gaping self-inflicted wounds. The Titans season has faded into farce. With no head coach, Jarryd Hayne has put his hand up to help with team tactics this week. With limited preparation Hayne has come up with four key point indicators: pass it to me when I call for it, tackle so I don’t need too, like all my tweets and follow me on Instagram. Hayne also stressed everyone follow his motto: “There’s no I in team and there’ll be no U if you don’t back ME”. The Titans are two games from swapping beaches from Surfer’s Paradise to Bali and it cannot come quick enough. Getting out onto the field and playing may just be the tonic to get away from all the melodrama. The Bulldogs showed last week how fun footy can be when you win. If the Dogs can reproduce that rousing display they’ll make it two on the trot and force the keyboard warriors to down tools and demand Des spread that smile from dial to dial.
Bulldogs by 4
Melbourne Storm v South Sydney Rabbitohs
The minor premiers welcome the Bunnies to AAMI Park and this should be an entertaining clash. The Storm are riding the wave of wonderful footy spectacularly into shore to collect the Provan Summons trophy. Only injuries or a hidden reef can wipeout the Storm at this stage but there is still a few weeks until the Big Dance and anything can happen in sport. Melbourne weren’t at their best last week in Newcastle yet still won by a huge margin but Craig Bellamy would not have been pleased with the display. He demands perfection and will have drilled any hint of arrogance out of the side. The Storm have been ultra-expansive with their attack, the offloading and second phase play allowing Billy Slater and Cameron Munster to run riot. Cooper Cronk returns to reunite the Big 3 and the Bunnies will each need a lucky rabbit’s foot in their jock strap to combat the axis of awesome. The Rabbitohs welcome back Sam Burgess and his work around the ruck now he’s playing prop forward is crucial to stifling the Storm. Cody Walker ran rings around the Warriors and his unpredictability can unlock the best of defences but he’ll need to pull more than one rabbit out of his magic hat to conjure the creativity to sink the Storm. Though the minor premiership is locked in the Storm are too professional a unit to relax and let their guard down. The finals are too close and that attitude doesn’t fly at this club.
Storm by 12
Cronulla Sharks v Sydney Roosters
The match of the round and a game that has huge ramifications for the Top 4. The Sharks are clinging on to fourth on 32 points holding the Eels at bay and poking the Panthers away with a stick. Lose to the Roosters and that hold on fourth whittles away, but a victory consolidates their position. The Sharks are the Roosters bogey team and the Shire Sherriff Paul Gallen has been a major factor in that stat and will be again. Big Gal is racking up monstrous numbers and in combination with Andrew Fifita they can rumble over the Roosters. Fifita found form last week which Sharks custodian, Valentine Holmes fed off, but the wrecking ball will run into some mighty resistance in the giant frames of Dylan Napa and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. Hopefully JWH has shelved the errant elbows this week, any more of that malarkey and he’ll get slapped with more than a fine. The Roosters struggled to put the Tigers to bed, cats are hard to prise off sheets once they’ve dug their claws in, and a failure of the forwards to fire does not bode well for the final score. It’s all on Roosters middle men as if they hold the Sharks big boppers the lethal left edge featuring Boyd Cordner, Luke Keary and Latrell Mitchell will slice the Sharks to shreds. Cronulla showed good signs in their Cowboy cull and the Chooks are the next club to feel the Sharknado building towards September.
Sharks by 4
New Zealand Warriors v Manly Sea Eagles
A danger game for the embattled Sea Eagles. Manly are in a hole and need to climb out before the Dragons and the Raiders locate their shovels. Trent Barrett is facing a crisis of confidence within his club with all players bar Daly Cherry-Evans, he’s always confident bordering on arrogant but that’s what makes DCE such a genius, just ask him. Marty Taupau is the man Barrett will look to for inspiration. Big Marty needs to wind up, push off the back fence and just unload on the Warriors to get the Eagles flying for DCE, Blake Green and the Trbojevic brothers to play off. A massive return this week for the Warriors, Shaun Johnson is back and he will be itching to pull out the party tricks and get the fans dancing in the aisles. The Warriors faithful are hurting and need some sunshine in their league lives. Johnson and Ata Hingano, off the bench, are the Warriors shining diamonds who have the game to take it to the Sea Eagles and trouble them no end. Add Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s fancy feet and the signs are all there the Warriors can send the Sea Eagles slump into a third week. Surely the desperation of the situation will eke out of the Sea Eagles the motivation to find the fight and soul to claw out of the hole.
Sea Eagles by 6
Penrith Panthers v St George Illawarra Dragons
Can you hear it?!? A sound coming from the foot of the mountains? It’s getting louder and louder, heading for ANZ Stadium in the first weekend of October. Here come the Panthers pounding their way into the playoffs. The ability to withstand the rampaging Raiders in last week’s blockbuster holds the Panthers in good stead. That was finals intensity and a quality performance under pressure. The online defence held firm in the face of the Raiders second half onslaught and that’s the key for the Panthers title tilt. Matt Moylan is out but all that does is bring the hugely talented Raiders wrecker Tyrone May into the starting side. The Dragons have done well to hang in the race for the playoffs and cannot wait for next week’s match against the Bulldogs and hope results go their way, they must win now. The Dragons attack can be stilted at times but it’s the forwards that matter here. The defence must hold firm and the Saints superb backrow need to bend Penrith like plasticine to give Gareth Widdop the room to move and mould and manufacture some artful attacks. Time is running out for the Saints and this will be tough going. The Panthers have plenty of attack and points in them, especially at home and with Nathan Cleary in such immaculate form it’s hard to see the Saints matching them or marching into the Top 8 this week. Seven in a row, do I hear eight? Going once, going twice… sold!
Panthers by 10
Enjoy the footy and remember gamble responsibly. My tip is if you’re the coach at the Gold Coast Titans next season I suggest working with this old saying in mind: “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. Code for make Jarryd Hayne your captain and co-coach. Hayne is a man of many talents, one being knocking off coaches – the body count is rising!